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Is Your Body a Toxic Waste Dump?


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The media is sounding the alarm about Zika virus, but the environmental toxins that we’re exposed to on a daily basis are a much bigger threat to our health—and our children’s health. Learn 3 ways that you can protect yourself and your family.

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Environmental toxins such as pesticides affect our bodies more adversely than even the Zika virus. istock.com/fotokostic

Over the last several years I’ve written extensively about the importance of nutrition, physical activity, sleep, stress management, social support, play, and a sense of purpose to our health and well-being.

Why are these factors so important? Because they are the primary drivers of chronic disease, which is by far the leading cause of death in the industrialized world. If you’re interested in prolonging your lifespan, the name of the game is, quite simply, avoiding chronic disease for as long as possible.

There’s another major factor that contributes to chronic disease that I haven’t written as much about yet I’ve come to believe is every bit as important (if not more so, in some cases) than those I just mentioned above: environmental toxins.

In a recent article in The New York Times, Nicholas Kristof points out that we’re exposed to hundreds of these toxins on a daily basis, most of which are completely invisible—and either ignored or underappreciated by the conventional media and medical establishment:

Scientists have identified more than 200 industrial chemicals—from pesticides, flame retardants, jet fuel—as well as neurotoxins like lead in the blood or breast milk of Americans, indeed, in people all over our planet.

These have been linked to cancer, genital deformities, lower sperm count, obesity, and diminished I.Q. Medical organizations from the President’s Cancer Panel to the International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics have demanded tougher regulations or warned people to avoid them, and the cancer panel has warned that “to a disturbing extent, babies are born ‘pre-polluted.’”

They have all been drowned out by chemical industry lobbyists.

These lobbyists have been so effective over the years that our current laws permit companies to introduce new chemicals into our environment (which inevitably end up in our food, air, and water) without any testing to show that they are safe.

In other words, chemicals are “innocent until proven guilty.”

That’s bad enough. But even when the chemicals are proven guilty, or at least strong concern about their effect on our health is raised, nothing happens.

Americans have over 200 toxic chemicals in their blood. Learn 3 ways to protect yourself and your family.

The chemicals Kristof mentions above are perfect examples. BPA, pesticides, flame retardants, and other chemicals that are commonly found in our food, food packaging, clothing, furniture, and household materials have been linked to numerous diseases in adults, and most disturbingly, lifelong developmental changes in children.

Yet these chemicals continue to be used, and the media gives very little attention to the problem. From the same article:

Americans are panicking about the mosquito-borne Zika virus and the prospect that widespread infection may reach the United States. That’s a legitimate concern, but public health experts say that toxic substances around us seem to pose an even greater threat.

“I cannot imagine that Zika virus will damage any more than a small fraction of the total number of children who are damaged by lead in deteriorated, poor housing in the United States,” says Dr. Philip Landrigan, a prominent pediatrician and the dean for global health at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

“Lead, mercury, PCBs, flame retardants and pesticides cause prenatal brain damage to tens of thousands of children in this country every year,” he noted.

Kristof argues that we need a new public health revolution with the goal of protecting babies and children from the harmful effects of these toxic chemicals.

I couldn’t agree more.

As a parent and a clinician, I’m deeply concerned about the effect of toxins on our children’s health.

We need laws that protect our kids, not corporations. Companies should be forced to prove that a chemical is safe before introducing it—instead of using our children as unwitting test subjects in an uncontrolled, society-wide scientific experiment.

In the meantime, what can we do as parents to protect our kids (and ourselves) from exposure to these chemicals? Here are the three most important places to start:

  • Eat real, organic food. This means avoiding chemical additives in processed and refined foods, pesticides in conventional produce, and antibiotic residue in conventionally raised animal products.
  • Use natural personal care products. What we put on our skin may be even more important than what we put in our mouth when it comes to toxins.
  • Reduce exposure to toxins in your home. The Environmental Working Group has a great “Healthy Home” checklist, which includes suggestions like storing food in glass or stainless steel instead of plastic, using natural laundry detergent, and avoiding vinyl shower curtains. I’ve also written about the importance of testing for mold in your home if you suspect you may be exposed.

I’ll be writing more on this subject in the future because I’ve become increasingly convinced that it’s a significant—and underrated—cause of chronic disease, and a threat to our children’s future.

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Join the conversation

  1. I’m interested in getting more information about what chemicals are used at parks, playgrounds and on soccer fields, baseball fields, etc. Also, what can we do about them? I’m hesitant to sign up for 4-yr old for soccer.

  2. One of the things I try to impress upon people is that our bodies know how to handle viruses and such – we “get sick” and our bodies use mucus, fever, and things like that to rid ourselves of them. It doesn’t feel great, but grin and bear it for a couple days (and keep yourself eating healthy, getting mild exercise and sun) and you’ll be fine.

    But the chemicals? Our bodies do NOT know how to handle those things. They’re new, and can interact with our bodies in all sorts of ways that we may not even understand yet.

    I listen to all the people in our office who are paranoid about bacteria and such and will do anything to avoid them, but then slather themselves with chemicals. There’s too much of an ick factor that we need to work past with people on that regard.

  3. Great article Chris!
    I’m glad to see that you’re helping to reign in people’s attention to the everyday toxic exposures we submit ourselves to, which can empower people to adapt their lifestyles and protect themselves and their family. The EWG does an excellent job advocating for the safety of cosmetic and household products, and I wish more people knew about these tools/resources. I recently purchased EWG certified cosmetics from Rejuva (and couldn’t be happier by making this vote with my money)! I have also recently been traveling and purchased a face mask with hepa-filter to wear on the plane, but felt kind of stigmatized for doing so. I felt better having a protective covering while breathing the recycled air of the plane for 5+ hours straight, but I don’t think others on the plane appreciated the mask (even thought it’s a pretty blue material). I wish there was less stigma given to those that have done their homework/research, purchased the products that help protect health, and have the guts to implement the actions. I found many protective facial masks listed through online distributors, so why not use them?

    • Check out wellness mama.com. She has a couple articles on natural mattress options. Good reader comments too. Not cheap though.

  4. Great article. Unfortunately, many of the big corporations are responsible for many bad things in the world today and poor health conditions are some of those.

    It is important to know what’s good and what’s bad for us, but it seems that trying to stay away from bad things is becoming more and more like a full-time job… and this seems to be really different from how a developed society should be…

  5. Half of US Children are Chronically Ill* “An estimated 43% of US children (32 million) currently have at least 1 of 20 chronic health conditions assessed, increasing to 54.1% when overweight, obesity, or being at risk for developmental delays are included” *Christina D. Bethell et al., Academic Pediatrics 2011, 11(3s); S22-.‐S33

    This is a matter that is extremely concerning and it’s all about the environment.

  6. In third world countries, it is very difficult to find real organic foods. Most of the time, there is little variety and they are much more expensive than the others. Even the organic ones we cannot be assured that they are really organic and it is very difficult to know about it’s origins, where it came from and how they were produced.

  7. It’s amazing to me how people will freak out over sponges in our office sink being left wet, or slather themselves with antibacterial stuff, or put up messages about cleaning out the microwave to avoid bacteria… but never comment about the chemicals.

    I had a co-worker chide me for not using antibacterial gel when entering our office one time, and just could not comprehend when I told her that I’d rather touch bacteria than introduce chemicals into my system. My body knows how to handle bacteria, but not chemicals.

  8. Chris, can you address using a Sunlighten Full Spectrum Infared Sauna to detox? While we try our best to avoid toxins, we decided to invest in a sauna and to use it almost daily. My understanding is that it’s the best way to safely detox. Your thoughts?

  9. I wear gloves when I do dishes, and one day I noticed that the Playtex brand “Living” gloves contained “Ultra-Fresh,” an antimicrobial, infused in the glove. I have DITCHED them immediately and began using rubber gloves by If You Care or latex gloves by Casabella. I’m not sure if Ultra-Fresh contains triclosan, but I feel better going with a natural brand.

  10. Thank for the article, Chris! I recently became aware of the fact that “green” cleaning sprays which based on citrus oils produce formaldehyde when they interact with ozone in the air, which was a big shock to me because I’m employed cleaning houses as my day job and I’ve tried so hard to minimize any chemical toxins because I have adrenal fatigue and chemical sensitivity, which resulted from Leaky Gut Syndrome and CFS (too much candida when I was younger). It totally sucks that every product I can find other than a homemade solution using vinegar has limonene from citrus and I’d love it if someone would make a home cleaner that won’t pollute a house with formaldehyde that’s unsafe during the winter when everything is closed up. Many scented candles contain limonene too as a common ingredient. Who would’ve thought, right?